February 8, 2011
Diet, Drugs and Alcohol in the 19th Century
In the early 19th century the working class lived on plain food such as bread, butter, potatoes and bacon. Butcher's meat was a luxury. However things greatly improved in the late 19th century. Railways and steamships made it possible to import cheap grain from North America so bread became cheaper. Refrigeration made it possible to import cheap meat from Argentina and Australia. Consumption of sugar also increased. By the end of the 19th century most people were eating much better food. The first fish and chip shops in Britain opened in the 1860s. By the late 19th century they were common in towns and cities. In the late 19th century the first convenience food in tins and jars went on sale. Although the principle of canning was invented at the end of the 18th century tinned food first became widely available in the 1880s. The can opener was invented in 1855 and the rotary can opener followed in 1870. Furthermore in the 1870s margarine, a cheap substitute for butter, was invented. Tomato ketchup was invented in 1874. Several new biscuits were invented in the 19th century including the Garibaldi (1861), the cream cracker (1885) and the Digestive (1892). Furthermore new sweets were invented during the 19th century including peanut brittle (1890) and liquorice allsorts (1899). For centuries people drank chocolate but the first chocolate bar was made in 1847. Milk chocolate was invented in 1875. These were not uncommon sentiments in the late 19th century, an era when laws to prohibit the use of drugs of all sorts had not yet been formulated. There had long been an association of the use of opium, both smoked and, in the form of laudanum, drunk, with the creative imagination. Experimentation with it was prevalent among the Romantic poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Percy Bysshe Shelley. But cocaine was something different again. Prior to 1860, the active ingredient in...